Social Media Survey Results

Email me for a complete analysis of social media usage broken down by market and activity.

This summer, we invited more than 350 journalists in the outdoor, ski/’board, bike, and lifestyle media to take part in a survey FreeRange Media designed to determine how important social media has become for researching and reporting the stories they write and produce. 

Of those 350+ invited, 85 media people completed the survey. The results (and the candid color commentary) provide a window into the evolving role of social media in their professional lives and the associated opportunities available for brands to best leverage these channels in their marketing.

First, let’s break down who those 85 people who participated are. You know, demographics.

Here’s how respondents broke out by industry:

That’s 59% Magazine, 51.3% Web site, and 2.6% Newspaper. Not surprising given that since 2007, 42,000 newspaper employees have either been laid off or bought out. Non-hook/bullet outdoor sections were already an endangered species and often one of the first departments to get cut.

Next: How long have you been in the media?

How long?

A veteran crew: 87% of respondents have been a member of the media for more than 5 years, with the majority of that group active for more than 10 years.

For which industry?

for which industry

More than half of the respondents are focused on the outdoors (climb, paddle, hike). As a percentage this is equal to how heavily weighted the list was towards outdoor. Percentage of respondents was consistent across all markets. 

Next: More detailed demographics that start to explore which social media channels the media maintain for work. 

Which platforms?

In order of popularity, the majority of respondents are active on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, with personal blog and YouTube less popular. Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest I would call emerging, particularly Instagram as more media figure out the opportunities for personal brand building.

So What? - If you are interested in establishing or maintaining an online relationship or looking for ways to interact with these influencers in a more informal setting, focus your time and attention on Facebook and Twitter. Keep an eye out for increased use of Instagram as the Facebook integration continues, as well as Google+ as the importance of active Google+ profiles increasingly impacts Google search results. If you want your content to rank high in search, Google+ will become a more important platform.

Addendum: When asked which search engine they use most frequently, 96% of survey respondents answered Google.

Next: Do you look to social media for researching and reporting?

How important?

Fully 73% of respondents acknowledge that social media has become an important or somewhat important resource for them for researching and reporting stories they write or produce.

So what?: If you want the media influencers to discover or include your company or product in any story they are working, you can increase your chances of being discovered and included by maintaining an active and focused social media presence.

Some additional perspective from the media:


I actually check my Twitter feed several times a day now for story leads. It’s become an important wire service for me.


It’s great for marketing and crowd-sourcing. Beyond that, it’s a waste as a research tool. Unless some idiot-savant has a great blog about a hike or climb i’m trying to find out more about. For our gear coverage, we rely most on our own instinct and testing, much less on what the cyberdorks are spraying. I prefer to talk to real people in person or on the phone more than ever before. Twitter can suck it.


It’s a great first step, for generating story leads. Also a great way to quickly find regional experts, i.e. anybody know how the paddling is in Milwaukee.


While social media channels can be a path to legitimate research and reports and sources, most of the content being pushed on social sites is marketing blather. Not useful.

Next, we tried to figure out how their social dependence has shifted over the last five years.

Five years?

There is probably a better way to chart this but I can’t find it. In this graph, the longer the line, the stronger the response. A quick read shows that…

  • The media are relying on PR people, press releases, and company web sites as much as they have in the past.
  • The media look to company Facebook pages much more frequently than they had in the past.
  • Search results continue to be a valuable resource for the media.
  • There is a bit of a love/hate relationship with Twitter, with the media either embracing company Twitter feeds or ignoring them.
  • Nobody is using Pinterest and Google+ for writing and research.

So What? You can’t just socialize or automate your PR. As you can see in the media comments below, PR people and press releases have remained valuable and reliable resources for writers.

Company web sites still need to have an updated, well-organized and SEO-ed media room, including social sharing functionality. For increased SEO, companies need to have an active blog and content strategy for discovery.

Additional media feedback:

Nothing beats a conversation with a PR person who knows me well. A couple years ago, corporate social media was kinda useful, but now Facebook pages, blogs, and Twitter feeds are cluttered with intergalactic junk. Companies should use real people to spread their message. Social media is for running prize giveaways—which I love, by the way.

The information doesn’t change — just the means of delivering it. Individual PR People, provided they know their clients, the products, and their business, are still my best resource day-in and day-out.

Next, we know you use them to some degree, which provide the most value?

How valuable?

Search engines still rule when it comes to finding reliable information. PR people are a close second, followed by company websites. Any choice below the 2.5 line is in “Meh” territory when it comes to the media’s enthusiasm for using them as a source.

Interesting to see YouTube so far down the list. Thinking that very few brands have figured out how to produce video content that is useful and valuable to the media outside of entertainment purposes. 

So What? Reverse mullet content strategy: Party in the front, business in the back. Media find most content on social channels frivolous and not relevant to their reporting, yet find the more formal, branded, and owned sites and properties have what they need to make their job easier. 

More media commentary:

Social media is fun, but do you honestly think that any real journalist would use it for anything more important than getting a story idea? Or a funny quote in a story? Rely on web-sourced reporting at your peril! Interview athletes, consumers, brand managers and other sources, while also testing products and gear to produce legitimate work.

Next, here’s a fun one that gets to the heart of the matter: Reliability.

The reliability questions.

Wow. I think this gets to the kind of content that is published through social media channels. As many survey respondents have noted, there’s a lot of marketing fluff on brand social sites and not a lot of relatively-objective info that is useful for developing stories.

Most companies are still stuck in the same traditional marketing strategy as 10 years ago and just see social as another channel to push that strategy. 

Media Color Commentary:

Everything must be vetted carefully because unreliability index is high!

Social Media is more reliable if you follow the actual subject of your story. Otherwise, MEH.

The questions about reliability of SM vs. traditional is a little off the mark. I find SM an efficient means of finding traditional media stories that I’m interested in, as well as finding stories, people, and products relevant to my work.

Social media has become more and more reliable…sure there’s still lots of junk, but if you know your experts and reliable sources it can be super helpful and a much faster and more effective way to disseminate info. It will continue to grow and challenge traditional media…I think we’ll see more social media news feeds.

Finally, with all that talk of reliability (or the lack thereof…) which channels do the media use to distribute their work?

The distribution question

Facebook is clearly the most active social channel for these sports. But wait, I thought Twitter sucked? So confused…It’s interesting to see that Facebook and Twitter are the two main points of distribution (and marketing/branding) for the media.

So What? The media are looking for extra visibility on the content they create on Facebook and Twitter. The more proactive you can be on helping them achieve this goal, the more endeared you will become in their hearts and minds. Share, Like, RT, Favorite…all those activities increase the amount of eyeballs the content receives.

Final Thoughts from The Media:

Social media is no different than other forms of media: when it’s good it’s valuable; when it’s bad it sucks ass and wastes time. Story should always be paramount, albeit the story length and form will differ when presented through social media. The basics of news journalism need to be stressed with social media content: know your audience, present interesting facts in a compelling (entertaining if possible) manner. In short it’s still all about the story. Story is often overlooked in social media, which is too often a dumping ground of information and infotainment with occasional nuggets of gold. A well-oiled social media operation should have some of the same components of a good magazine or newspaper: crisp and concise writing, sharp editing, compelling content and narrative.

People are relying way too much on Facebook, Twitter, and the like as avenues of promotion. It’s gotten so saturated with “likes” that what makes something real or cool or interesting becomes increasingly shallow. Just like how many “friends” or “followers” one has. Social media is great for instant gratification and keeping up to the second tabs on your interests, but it vanishes just as quickly as the next post. As a writer/editor for mostly traditional media, I have my biases. I will also say that social media has provided a great boost to everyone—writers like me included—as it helps us spread our content around to a much larger audience. Instead of waiting for a reader to maybe pick up a copy at the newsstand, we can tease it on twitter or facebook to spark their interest. But it would be a mistake for anyone to rely solely on social media to get the word out—or to further their understanding of any particular topic.

Social media helps personalize magazine publishing. Many of my readers “know” me now through Facebook etc. They “know” the people behind mag. This is a benefit.

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